Missions to the icy moons
(May 24, 2013) Far from
the warm inner regions of the solar system, in orbit around the
great gas giants are moons full of surprises. Several NASA spacecraft
have flown by or orbited Jupiter and Saturn and their impressive
collections of moons. Next up, the European Space Agency plans
to launch its heavily-instrumented JUpiter ICy moons Explorer
(JUICE) to investigate the four big moons of Jupiter—Callisto,
Europa, Ganymede, and Io—in 2022 for arrival in 2030.
Astronomy at the high
(May 23, 2013) The atmosphere
is a problem for astronomers for two big reasons: it’s turbulent,
so it smears out the light from cosmic objects, and it blocks
out huge swathes of the electromagnetic spectrum. To see the universe
in extreme clarity and observe in regions of the spectrum such
as the far ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma-rays, instruments have
to be lofted into space.
Secrets of the Magellanic
(May 23, 2013) Given enough
time, bits of matter and energy just floating around in space
can and will organize themselves into pretty much anything –
from a pint of beer to a classic corvette. They could also organize
themselves into "Boltzmann brains" centers of consciousness that
just pop up randomly in the void. The appearance of Boltzmann
brains all around the cosmos in the far future could be a problem
because ultimately it would mean that the experience of the Boltzmann
brains would vastly outweigh our own (read the whole article to
understand why). But, it seems, we may not have to worry anyway,
thanks to string theory.
Secrets of the Magellanic
(May 22, 2013) It seems
that the Magellanic Stream – a long ribbon of gas –
that wends its way around the halo of the Milky Way contains material
that has been stripped out from both the Large and Small Magellanic
Clouds. Observations of the Stream also suggest a new theory:
that the Clouds have not always been close neighbors of ours.
Kepler's amazing planetary
(May 20, 2013) The Kepler
planet-hunting mission may (we don't know yet) be over, but astronomers
have enough data from it to keep them busy for years. This graphic
shows 1,235 of the 2,740 planet candidates that the Kepler mission
NASA to install quantum
(May 17, 2013) Quantum computers
are no longer pie-in-the-sky devices being talked about theoretically
or tinkered with in labs. A $15 million D-Wave Two quantum computer,
made by Canadian company D-Wave Systems, is going to be installed
at NASA's Ames Research Center later this year.
The end for Kepler?
(May 16, 2013) One of the
Kepler Space Telescope's reaction wheels has frozen, meaning that
it can no longer be pointed at targets in the sky. The spacecraft
is now in safe mode while engineers try to free the wheel or devise
some means by which the mission can be continued.
Neutrino astronomy is born
(May 16, 2013) We may be
seeing the dawn of a completely new branch of astronomy –
neutrino astronomy – with the announcement today that the
IceCube experiment at the South Pole has now detected 28 of these
elusive particles of such high energy that they must have come
from outside the solar system.
50 years ago, the final
Mercury launch took place
(May 15, 2013) Launched
on this day in 1963, the final mission of Project Mercury –
America's first crewed space program. It carried astronaut L.
Gordon Cooper into orbit aboard his Faith 7 capsule. Cooper was
so relaxed while waiting on the launch pad, he actually managed
to nod off! He had another opportunity to sleep once in space
because this 22-orbit mission was the first in American manned
spaceflight history to last more than a day. (Vostok 2, however,
holds the record for the first full-day manned mission of all.)
Magnetar found at galactic
(May 14, 2013) Astronomer
Dale Frail, using the Very Large Array, has made an exciting discovery
at the center of our galaxy. Seeking to find out more about an
X-ray flare from close to the supermassive black hole at the heart
of the Milky Way, he found that the flare was coming from a magnetar
– a highly magnetized neutron star. The magnetar's regular
radio pulses should prove valuable in measuring the warping of
space-time near the black hole and testing predictions of Einstein’s
general theory of relativity.
Safe return for Hadfield
and his ISS expedition crewmembers
(May 14, 2013) They do it
differently in Russia. No splashdown in the sea to be winched
aboard an aircraft carrier. You get to sit in a field in a comfy
chair with a beach towel over you, while an interested crowd looks
on! The return to Earth, earlier this day, of ISS expedition crew
Chris Hadfield, Roman Romanenko, and Tom Marshburn.
Deadly pandemic steps closer
(May 13, 2013) When we (Dirk
Schulze-Makuch and I) wrote our book Megacatastrophes, we included
a "catastrophometer" reading at the end of each chapter. The highest
ranking we gave was to the possibility of a worldwide pandemic
of disease for which there was no adequate treatment. That possibility
seems to be getting closer ...
Rock-polluted stars hint
at Sun's future
(May 11, 2013) By looking
at the spectra of two white dwarfs in the Hyades cluster, astronomers
have found signs that rocky objects have fallen into these stars
– evidence of the disruptive effect that late stellar evolution
can have on planetary systems and offering clues as to what might
befall our own solar system in a few billion years time.
Remembering Richard Feynman
(May 11, 2013) Born on this
day in 1918, the American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman
who shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics with Julian Schwinger
and Shinichiro Tomonaga for their independent work on quantum
electrodynamics. With Murray Gell-Mann, he proposed the quark
as a fundamental subatomic particle.
Drill site no. 2 picked
for Mars rover
(May 10, 2013) The Curiosity
science team at JPL have picked a second target for the rover
to start drilling some time in the next few days. Called 'Cumberland,'
it's about nine feet (2.75 meters) west of the rock where Curiosity
drilled for the first time, back in February.